Bookshelf Q&A: Billy Sample

April 1, 2013

Billy Sample, who enjoyed a nine-year career, primarily with the Texas Rangers, has turned to “act two” of his life, literally.

Sample served as executive producer, co-director, and writer of Reunion 108, a feature film about to make its official release.

From the IMDB plot summary:

Two generations of professional baseball players return for a reunion game at one of their minor league stops en route to the big leagues. Unbeknownst to them, the owner of the club, on his way to a month of rustic living in the high Asian elevations, and desiring a connection to home, arranges an inducement to get the players to reveal novel anecdotes from their past ‘on and off the field’ baseball lives. The only apparent commonality between the two groups is their success on the ball field, each team providing the locals with the only two minor league championships for the small town nestled in the valley of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Bookshelf is always into a good baseball flick, so I asked Sample if he could talk a bit about the process and motives behind his project. The following is a Q&A conducted via email.

* * *

Bookshelf: Give me the elevator pitch about Reunion 108? How did you come up with idea and why did you decide to handle the majority of the administration. Was it a creative control thing? I enjoy writing and that means of expression.  I told Paul Hagen, this year’s baseball Hall of Fame J.G Taylor Spink award winner, that I often ascribe to be a scribe.  I have had articles in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, as well as being one of the inaugural columnist at Baseball Weekly (now Sports Weekly).  I thought I could write something novel and insightful, giving people a raw look at the behind the scenes of baseball; an edgy, satirical, R-rated, Billy Sample view of the baseball world.  Being a low budget independent film necessitated the need for me to be hands-on in a number of categories

Bookshelf: How autobiographical is this for you?
Sample: There is a lot of me in there, all the stories have some percentage of real life validity

Bookshelf: Where does your interest in cinema come from?
Sample: I often think that fans of one select profession are often fans of another select profession.  I acted in two plays my junior year in high school, my drama teacher, Dorsey Smith, asked if I wanted to see if he could get me scholarship money at his alma mater, East Tennessee State University, but I was exhausted from playing three sports and didn’t participate in the drama club my senior year.  Now, I just watch too much Turner Classic Movies, at all hours of the day and night.

Bookshelf: But lots of people are film lovers, yet they don’t go out and try to do one of their own. What made you decide to make your own?
Sample: I submitted the screenplay to Ken DelVecchio and the Hoboken Film Festival in 2011. The festival has a category for un-produced screenplays and it took top honors.  I’m not sure if the selection was steeped in politics; but one other applicant asked to read mine as he wasn’t sure, and I asked to read his; his was very good, but I thought mine was, too.  After receiving the award, I took it as an omen to try to produce it, I probably would have felt the same way even if I hadn’t won the award, as I was pleased just with the nomination.  I could feel my knees shaking as I walked to the stage, I’ve got to work on that in case I’m nominated and/or win future awards :-).

Bookshelf: This is your first major project. Have there been other, shorter ones?
Sample: This is my first project in this genre, but hopefully not the last. I have three other projects if indeed this is successful and/or profitable. One of those involves my first grade teacher who interacted with George Washington Carver and Thurgood Marshall and was instrumental in getting equity in pay among African-American and white teachers in 1930s southwest Virginia.  My oldest son, Ian, who was living in Japan before returning stateside to help me produce Reunion 108, has written three screenplays, one of those received favorably by Larry Meistrich, the executive producer of the movie Slingblade.  <

Bookshelf: You have quite a large cast (how many speaking parts?) Wouldn’t it have been easier to start a bit smaller?
Sample: Reunion 108 had over eighty speaking parts, the number was dictated by the script.  There are thirteen major flashback scenes, in addition to the twenty actors of the clubhouse where about half of the movie takes place.

Bookshelf: What’s the quality of athleticism like and, as a former Major Leaguer, did you ever find it frustrating to deal with amateurs?
Sample: I was very pleased with the level of athleticism of the actors.  I had many of the actors pantomime throwing or fielding a baseball during the audition process.  In the end however, it’s a movie with a baseball backdrop as opposed to a baseball movie.

Bookshelf: Talk abut the logistics: how did you balance budget, personalities, cast, and crew?
Sample: We shot twenty-one out of twenty-four days, averaging about seven pages of script a day.  It wasn’t the easiest shoot. I guess many independent pictures aren’t, but the actors were very complimentary of the shoot, and for the atmosphere, director, James Suttles had established on set.  Balancing the budget, well, that we could have made a documentary about, all I’m going to say is that if you’re thirty-five years or younger, baseball players have always made multi-million dollar. My first salary was $21,000, taking home about $17,000, and that was during the double-digit inflation days of the late 1970s. Let me tell you how far that didn’t last.

Bookshelf: How long did it take, from first day shooting to final edits?
Sample: Well, it’s taken about a year from the first day of shooting until the first screening.  I wanted to have it out late last summer, but ran into a number of roadblocks, most of those revolving around finances, so production crawled at a snail’s pace, which in the end may work to my advantage as now I’ll have the whole summer of baseball to continue the momentum of the film.

Bookshelf: What are your expectations for the movie?
Sample: I don’t know if I have “expectations.” I have desires. First I want to return the initial investment for my investors. Next I want to make a profit for them. Then I want as many people to see the movie [as possible], especially young adults as that is my target group.  In spite having a number of middle-aged actors, I see the humor being absorbed by the late-teens to early-thirties demographic.  Oh, and I want to make enough money to fund other Carms Production projects.  I never did figure out what to do with a B.S. in psychology, so maybe this can be my old aged vocation <

Bookshelf: We all have notions in our head about what the outcome of our work should be. How different the finished version of Reunion 108 from your conception when all was said and done?
Sample: I let the actors ad lib quite a bit from the script, but for the most part, the themes I want to emphasize were indeed highlighted and I love the way the movie ends.

Bookshelf: Now that you’ve had this experience under your belt, would you want to do another film?
Sample: I’d take a deep breath, maybe a couple of more deep breaths, and jump back into it.  If I’m putting up most of the money, I’d probably be more “hands on” the next time, plus I’ve learned more about the logistics and the process.  I had been on a movie set previous to this one time, back in 1997 for the Showtime movie, Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way, so I wasn’t a total novice, but the more experience, the more confident I’ll be about the whole movie making industry.

* * *

Sample now makes his home in New Jersey, so it’s appropriate that he host an advance screening at the Yogi Berra Museum on the campus of Montclair State University on Monday, April 8  at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The screenings will be followed by a Q&A with Sample. Tickets are $12 and seating is limited. RSVP to 973-655-2378. Follow Reunion 108 on Facebook and visit sample’s website here.


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